The Bookcase

First published in NewsXtra

A look at the latest releases, plus what's new in paperback.

By Kate Whiting


New fiction

A Week In Winter by Maeve Binchy is published in hardback by Orion Books, priced £18.99. Available now.

A Week in Winter will be a bittersweet read for fans of best-selling Irish author Maeve Binchy, who died in July this year aged 72 after a short illness.

Binchy's final novel does not disappoint. It is full of her trademark humour and realistic observations. Through the lives and emotions of her characters, she shows that what is often seen on the surface is not actually what lies beneath.

Chicky Ryan lives in Stoneybridge, a beautiful but wet and wild paradise on the west coast of Ireland. She falls in love and moves to New York. Years later, she surprises everyone when she returns to help Queenie Sheedy convert her cliff-top home, Stone House, from a place of disrepair into a welcoming hotel with a big kitchen.

It is winter when the hotel opens and Chicky and her staff welcome their first guests. They include a librarian; an American who arrived in impulse having missed his flight; a Swedish accountant; Nurse Winnie, who's with Lillian, the companion from hell; and troubled doctors Henry and Nicola. Both staff and guests have great expectations for that week's break...

As with her previous works, Binchy has the uncanny ability to capture the drama of everyday life so wonderfully and that is what will be greatly missed.

10/10

(Review by Laura Wurzal)


Standing In Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin is published in hardback by Orion Books, priced £18.99. Available now.

Cantankerous Edinburgh detective John Rebus returns to the fold after five years, thanks to a change in Scottish employment law which has opened an opportunity for the cop who retired at 60 to weave his way back as a civilian in a cold case unit.

It's the 18th Rebus novel for Ian Rankin, whose books are said to account for 10% of crime fiction sales in the UK and whose famous curmudgeonly cop has been played on TV by John Hannah and Ken Stott.

The beer-swilling, heavy-smoking maverick puts his colleagues' backs up when he befriends a woman whose daughter has been missing for 10 years after disappearing off the A9, and who has made a connection with the recent disappearance of a 15-year-old girl off the same stretch of road. More probing reveals other missing person cases along that route.

While colleagues on the unit have dismissed the case, Rebus pursues it, which fuels the anger of both old and new adversaries, including the tee-total, sober and serious internal affairs investigator Malcolm Fox, the hero of Rankin's two most recent police novels, The Complaints and The Impossible Dead.

Fox may have been the hero of Rankin's most recent novels, but through Rebus's eyes he's far from it, and the scenes in which they appear together are a delight; the hard-bitten old-timer versus the whiter-than-white younger officer.

It's 25 years since Rebus first appeared on the scene, and as Rankin writes in real time, it's clear that age has made his anti-hero more cynical and pessimistic about the world.

But readers who love his unconventional, un-PC approach to detective work, his penchant for rock music and his lifelong love of the pub will surely be hoping that Rankin doesn't retire him again too quickly.

8/10

(Review by Hannah Stephenson)


Edisto by Padgett Powell is published in paperback by Serpent's Tail, priced £7.99. Available now.

Padgett Powell is a renowned experimental American novelist, having produced books and short stories for nearly three decades, including The Interrogative Mood, a novel composed entirely of questions.

However, his debut, Edisto, first published in 1984, is only just being released in the UK.

Edisto is an off-beat, coming-of-age story following the exploits of 12-year-old Simon in North Carolina, told from his precocious point of view.

His wealthy mother, sure that her son will one day be a literary genius, gives him free rein to do things inappropriate for a boy, and employs a father surrogate to help guide him through life - since his estranged biological father wants other things for his son.

Even though Simon spends most of his time shooting the breeze, he can come up with surprising insights, but the disappointing thing is they're not always that interesting.

6/10

(Review by Ben Major)


The Girl In The Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender is published in paperback by Windmill, priced £7.99. Available now.

Judging from the flirty front cover and title, you might expect The Girl In The Flammable Skirt to be just another slightly risque work of chic-lit riding on the 50 Shades Of Grey phenomenon.

However, this collection of stories by American writer Aimee Bender, now available in the UK for the first time, is anything but.

The tales are very surreal, deeply symbolic and will linger in your mind long after you've put them down.

From the woman whose husband has returned from war with no lips, to the girl who watches her mother give birth to her grandmother, these are beautifully written tales that use extended metaphors to extreme lengths.

Parts of the collection are also more realistic and have a darker edge. Quiet Please follows a female librarian who is in unbearable pain after her father has died. Her only way of gaining relief is to try to sleep with every man who visits her library.

This thought-provoking collection proves Bender as a writer of extraordinary talent and imagination.

8/10

(Review by Harriet Shephard)


The Racketeer by John Grisham is published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £19.99. Available now.

John Grisham has a host of legal thrillers to his name and The Racketeer only adds to the lengthy list of crimes he has put on paper.

Prison gives a man plenty of time to dream up a scheme and Malcolm Bannister, bitter because he got swept up by America's all-encompassing RICO laws in a money-laundering prosecution, has a beauty.

He offers to solve the murder of a federal judge and his girlfriend in return for his freedom, a new identity and witness protection.

But rather than just settle for that, Bannister sets on a course of revenge which drags the FBI and the Attorney General's office into his plans.

Throw a fortune of gold into the mix and there is plenty riding on Bannister's scheme.

Grisham has penned nearly 30 mostly legal fiction titles, some of which have made it all the way to Hollywood for the big-screen treatment.

The Racketeer twists and turns its way through a legal minefield from Virginia, to Florida and all the way to Antigua.

But to see whether Bannister can pull off his little plot, don't wait for the movie - read this now.

8/10

(Review by Roddy Brooks)


From Notting Hill To New York... Actually by Ali McNamara is published in paperback by Sphere, priced £6.99. Available now.

Ali McNamara's career as a best-selling novelist could be worthy of a chick-lit heroine in its own right.

A 'fan fiction' piece on Ronan Keating's website saw her fanbase erupt practically overnight and she is fast becoming one of the most celebrated female authors of the genre.

McNamara will not be stealing the crown from Helen Fielding just yet, however. The author's sequel to debut novel From Notting Hill With Love... Actually bears all the hallmarks of a light-hearted must-read, crammed with dreamy escapism, but it is altogether too predictable.

Leading lady Scarlett O'Brien is a thinly veiled version of Bridget Jones, with references to Colin Firth and famous heartthrobs littered throughout. That said, like Bridget Jones, we fall for Scarlett's recognisable foibles and antics with Mr Right, namely Sean, and lovable gay best friend Oscar.

McNamara's simplistic first-person voice firmly puts the reader in Scarlett's shoes, cringing along with her adventures in New York City.

The celebrity-obsessed Twitter generation will eat this up with smiles on their faces, but it begged for a little more originality.

6/10

(Review by Angela Johnson)


Monty Python's Flying Circus: Complete And Annotated: All The Bits is published in hardback by Black Dog & Leventhal, priced £35. Available now.

Every line from Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam during their collective time as The Pythons is included in this 800-page tome.

At face value, it seems fairly pointless to collect the transcripts in this manner, but the book is saved by the copious annotations and artwork by Gilliam to provide a detailed and (more often than not) interesting insight into every sketch and scene.

The transcripts are further helped by hundreds of screenshots and behind-the-scenes photographs from the series, which come in handy if a sketch has been forgotten by the reader.

For some, the greater understanding this book provides of the intricacies of each joke might suck the life out of the comedy troupe's unique humour, but Python fans are of a particular breed, and most will likely find this book enjoyable and worthwhile.

7/10

(Review by Lewis Young)


Children's book of the week

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead is published in hardback by Andersen Press, priced £9.99. Available now.

Georges (with an s) moves into a small apartment block in Brooklyn when his architect dad gets laid off.

While his mum takes on double shifts to support them, Georges meets Safer, a boy whose bohemian parents have called his siblings Candy and Pigeon and decided none of them need to go to school.

Safer teaches Georges how to spy on their mysterious neighbour, Mr X, who wears nothing but black and carries heavy suitcases around.

And so begins a friendship very different from any Georges has at his own school, where he's bullied about his name's spelling (after the artist Georges Seurat).

His mother is an absent presence in the book, shown only through the messages in Scrabble letters she leaves her son.

Liar & Spy is a short but beautifully written insight into the life of a young boy who's trying to figure things out.

7/10

(Review by Kate Whiting)


Non-fiction

Puzzled: Secrets And Clues From A Life In Words by David Astle is published in hardback by Profile Books, priced £14.99. Available now.

Quirky, humorous, and oh so taxing, David Astle takes us on a mind-bending journey into the perplexing world of puzzles.

The reader is presented with a crossword grid and the corresponding gobbledygook of clues that must be deciphered.

Fortunately, Astle is on hand to take the reader step by step through the clues, in order to solve the dastardly Master Puzzle.

Each chapter is dedicated to laying bare the mysteries of anagrams, puns, charades and homophones, as well as the tantalising exotics of the mindbenders contained within.

The quizlings at the end of every section also allow the reader to hone their puzzling skills.

Puzzled is, however, more than a how-to guide to solving a crossword. An engaging history of puzzles is provided, as well as anecdotes from Astle's own puzzling past.

As a standalone book on the history of puzzles, or as a reference to solving puzzles, Puzzled is an entertaining and informative read.

8/10

(Review by Liz Ellis)


The Making Of The First World War by Ian FW Beckett is published in hardback by Yale University Press, priced £18.99. Available now.

Ian FW Beckett's new book could quite easily be lost among the many other tomes on this subject. But it's not until you begin reading it that you realise that this isn't of the same style.

Avid historians may find this book a little shallow compared to some of the more extensive reference books, but Beckett offers up a very informative piece which gives a factual take on some of the social side-effects and lesser-known, yet prominent episodes of the First World War.

He also looks at other world-changing events that affected the men on the Western Front, as well as the key players on all sides who orchestrated many of the worst strategies in military history.

It's a solid addition to the archives of a brutal time in the world's history.

8/10

(Review by Philip Robinson)


The Things That Nobody Knows: 501 Mysteries Of Life, The Universe And Everything by William Hartston is published in paperback by Atlantic Books, priced £9.99. Available now.

Ignorance is not bliss, as chess champion-turned-writer William Hartston proves with his delightful book that tackles some of the world's biggest mysteries.

From aardvarks to zymology, the study of fermentation, Hartston takes the reader on a humorous journey through life's big questions.

For example, do we have free will? Drawing on scientific research and his own astute observations, he answers in bite-size chunks that won't leave readers wallowing in confusion.

While some topics, including Genetics and The Universe, provoke a sense of wonder and awe at the world we live in, others with questions such as 'What colours were dinosaurs?' seem trivial compared to the other remarkable secrets he uncovers.

Nevertheless, the collection of 501 mysteries is a compelling read for inquisitive minds.

Hartston's sly wit and well-thought-out responses to the questions form an entertaining narrative throughout the book that will keep readers captivated right through to the very last mystery.

It's a must-read for those who believe that understanding our world comes through the power of knowledge, and not in the bliss of ignorance.

7/10

(Review by Mary Ann Pickford)


Best-sellers for the week ending November 24

Paperbacks

1 A Street Cat Named Bob, James Bowen

2 The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared, Jonas Jonasson

3 The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year, Sue Townsend

4 Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

5 Thinking, Fast And Slow, Daniel Kahneman

6 The House Of Silk: The New Sherlock Holmes Novel, Anthony Horowitz

7 The Dinosaur That Pooped Christmas, Tom Fletcher & Dougie Poynter

8 The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey

9 Billionaire Boy, David Walliams

10 Mr Stink, David Walliams


Hardbacks

1 Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel, Jeff Kinney

2 Jamie's 15-Minute Meals, Jamie Oliver

3 Standing In Another Man's Grave, Ian Rankin

4 Guinness World Records 2013

5 Is It Just Me? Miranda Hart

6 Rod: The Autobiography, Rod Stewart

7 Dominion, CJ Sansom

8 Bradley Wiggins: My Time: An Autobiography, Bradley Wiggins

9 Ratburger, David Walliams

10 1,227 QI Facts To Blow Your Socks Off, John Lloyd & John Mitchinson

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